The Salvation Army plans to reopen the Way Out Shelter this month, but local elected officials remain mired in debate over how it will operate.
The shelter has yet to sign an operating agreement with its two funders, Spokane County and the city of Spokane.
The Spokane City Council reviewed a draft operating agreement with the Salvation Army last week, and several members appeared unsatisfied.
That uncertainty has the Salvation Army on edge, which needs the funding in order to be able to pay its employees.
“We can’t open without a contract,” Salvation Army Maj. Ken Perine told The Spokesman-Review.
City Attorney Michael Ormsby told the council on Monday that officials are working to finalize a new draft contract this week and hope to have it voted on at its meeting on Nov. 8.
The council hesitatingly approved a resolution committing $3.5 million in funding to the shelter earlier this month, but only on the condition that it reach a “good neighbor agreement” that sets expectations for the nonprofit’s interactions with the nearby community.
A good neighbor agreement became a priority for council members who felt that the emergency shelter previously operated by the Salvation Army in the same building was launched too abruptly and had an adverse impact on the neighborhood. Previously, the building was an emergency, night-by-night shelter. Spokane County purchased the building as part of its COVID-19 response, providing more space as existing shelters needed to reduce capacity in order to space out their guests.
The draft operating agreement reviewed on Thursday would include good neighbor principles instead of a standalone good neighbor agreement.
The Way Out Shelter, 55 W. Mission Ave., is expected to reopen in November under a “bridge housing” model. It will accept guests only by referral, specifically those people who are believed to be ready to take the next step out of homelessness.
“There’s a whole lot of people out there that just want a safe place to be and helping hand to get back on their feet,” Perine said.
Councilman Michael Cathcart, who said he supports bridge housing in principle, aired concerns about the proposed contract. He noted that the contract makes reference to “members of the community,” but does not define who they are or what role they had in the process.
“I don’t know how you can say that the community is agreeing to anything without some sort of buy-in from the community,” Cathcart said.
Cathcart sought assurances that key people at the facility would be readily accessible at all hours to address the concerns of neighbors.
Given his myriad concerns with the proposal, Cathcart said he did not want the proposed contract to be used as the precedent for a good neighbor agreement the city may sign with shelter providers in the future.
Councilwoman Karen Stratton took issue with a clause in the contract that would allow the Salvation Army to change the use of the building with only 48 hours of notice. She and other council members have looked to ensure it would not be used as an emergency, night-by-night low-barrier shelter.
“The neighborhood wants to be involved. They support the bridge housing, they just don’t want to see what happened last year when it was a shelter space,” Stratton said.
Perine said the shelter does not want to be contractually prohibited from ever opening an emergency shelter, though he noted it is unlikely the Salvation Army would do so in that space. He asked why the low-barrier prohibition is a requirement officials are pushing on the Salvation Army, but not other shelters.
The nonprofit does pledge, however, to operate in a way that is “making sure we’re good neighbors” no matter what services it is offering, Perine said.
Council President Breean Beggs said he wants the Salvation Army to commit in the contract to regularly attending neighborhood council meetings.
The city and county could decide to remove neighbor principles out of the contract entirely and negotiate them separately, council members contemplated on Thursday.
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